Since his late August return from the injured list, Clay Holmes has looked significantly better. More specifically, the right-hander’s ability to locate his pitches has improved quite a bit since his stretch of mid-season struggles. Esteban wrote recently about the reliever’s mechanics, and how his release point was affecting his command. After Holmes recovered from his back injury, he found his release point and was able to locate his filthy sinker much better. This has held true since his piece came out, as Holmes has been striking out more batters, walking far less, and finding much more success in general.
As a two-pitch pitcher, it is more important that Holmes uses his weapons complimentary to one another than it might be for a pitcher with a bigger repertoire. When he’s on, his sinker-slider combo is one of the best out there, and he seems to be finding that complimentary action once again.
From the All-Star break to when Holmes went on the injured list in mid-August with back issues, the reliever pitched 7.2 innings giving up seven runs, posting a 6.90 FIP and both walking and striking out batters at a disappointing 17.9 percent clip. Certainly a lackluster performance from an All-Star reliever, but since he came off the shelf things have improved significantly. in 8.1 innings, Holmes has a 2.16/1.68 ERA/FIP, a strikeout rate of 29 percent and a much improved walk rate of 3.2 percent. It’s a limited sample, but positive progression is always encouraging.
As mentioned, Holmes is a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a sinker and a slider. Luckily for him (and us), when those pitches are working, they are both excellent. Of course, these pitches move in opposite directions and compliment each other well, particularly when they are moving well and Holmes is locating effectively. When he was struggling, and was able to find the zone, too often he left his sinker in the middle of the zone or shaded to the glove side. Since returning however, he’s gotten back to the nasty arm side movement that has served him so well. Here is where his sinker was from the All-Star break to the beginning of his IL stint:
And here is where he’s been placing it since then:
In his limited time back so far, he’s been able to keep his primary pitch to the run side, maximizing both the movement the pitch has, as well as the effect his slider can have moving in the other direction. This was a process that helped him greatly earlier in the season.
Holmes’ slider was never as much of an issue, and he doesn’t throw it nearly as much as he does his sinker, but the ability to counteract the two weapons is what makes him so deadly. When he can effectively keep his devastating sinker to the glove side of the plate, he’s able to control both sides of the zone and keep hitters off balance with the opposing movement of his two pitches.
It seems to be a common trend for the Yankees bullpen, to keep viewers on the edge of their seat with inconsistency. For a lot of this year, Holmes was able to evoke the opposite of that, until he began to struggle in July and August. Since returning from an IL stint at the end of last month however, he has seemingly righted the ship. There are still questionable moments, and it hasn’t been enough of a sample to fully declare him to be “back.” But he seems to be once again finding a mix that works well, and locating his limited repertoire in a way that benefits him and the Yankees as much as possible.